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With the Yankees preparing for a head-to-head battle with the Blue Jays that could decide the division crown, a sacrifice bunt may have changed the course of their season. Masahiro Tanaka has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain and will not be available to pitch on Wednesday.
Ivan Nova will make that start instead at Rogers Centre, with Adam Warren and Luis Severino taking the mound in the first two contests. Manager Joe Girardi hopes that Tanaka will just miss one turn through the rotation due to the injury, which occurred during the Yanks’ 5-1 loss on Friday. An MRI revealed the strain.
“It’s frustrating,” Girardi said. “You get concerned whenever your pitchers have to hit and you try to do everything you can to keep them from getting hurt. You prepare them, and something you can’t prepare is that sudden burst that they have to make.”
Tanaka, 26, said that he felt his hamstring grab while leaving the batters box following a second-inning sacrifice bunt. Though he did continue to feel the tightness on the mound, he was able to throw 82 pitches over six innings and had no issues fielding his position.
“I felt strong enough to be able to keep myself on the mound and pitch effectively,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “If I felt that it was something that I could not have handled, then I would not be in that game.”
Because of that, Tanaka said he agrees with the optimistic timetable of returning to the rotation after missing just one turn. He said that a hamstring injury cost him about a month five years ago in Japan, but that injury was more severe.
“I’m not looking at it as something very serious,” Tanaka said. “The reason I say that is because I hurt it early in the game and felt strong enough to continue.”
Tanaka, who is 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA in 23 starts, said that he lobbied the Yankees to let him pitch on Wednesday despite the injury. Girardi said that Tanaka would be better served to receive treatment for the three days while the Yankees are in Toronto, and so Tanaka will not travel with the team.
“I did tell them that I wanted to pitch on Wednesday,” Tanaka said. “At the same time, I understand their decision. The season is not over. We don’t know when, but I’ll probably be able to pitch again after the Toronto series.”
The Yankees have had past issues with pitchers hitting in Interleague play. In 2008, Chien-Ming Wang injured his right foot while running the bases in a game at Houston, altering the course of his career. Both Girardi and Tanaka said that they have no issue with the idea of pitchers hitting in Interleague games.
“We tell our guys to take it easy in situations, but I’ve often said that one of the reasons they are successful is their competitive nature inside of them,” Girardi said. “They understand the importance of runs, and it’s just hard.”
Nova had been removed from the rotation earlier in the week for performance-based reasons. The right-hander is 6-8 with a 5.14 ERA in 14 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, and had not been called upon out of the bullpen.
“I think it’s all in the mind,” Nova said. “It’s my mindset. I’ve got to be ready to go; command my pitches and execute every pitch.”
The Subway Series continues this afternoon here at Citi Field, as Carlos Beltran’s three-run homer has put the Yankees in front early against Noah Syndergaard. Michael Pineda is on the mound for the Bombers.
Playoff picture: The Yankees (80-66) trail the Blue Jays (85-62) by 4 1/2 games in the American League East. Toronto hosts the Red Sox this afternoon. The Yankees lead the Astros (77-71) by four games for the first Wild Card spot.
Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees with a 98.8 percent chance of making the postseason, and just a 5.6 percent chance of winning the division.
“We want to be the division champs,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “We want to get that definitive first series that you can qualify for, but it’s not the only way to accomplish the dream. The dream isn’t supposed to stop at Wild Card or division title. It’s supposed to be that last team standing.”
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 19, 2015
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 19, 2015
The underbelly of the Yankees’ bullpen has appeared softer down the stretch, reducing the impact of what has been trumpeted as one of the team’s strengths. Despite that swoon, manager Joe Girardi said he retains confidence in late-inning arms like Chasen Shreve.
“I still have a lot of belief in Shreve,” Girardi said on Saturday. “I know he’s had his struggles recently, but this guy has pitched really well for us this year. You look at his body of work, not necessarily a snapshot of time and obviously he’s important to us.”
No decision has been made regarding Masahiro Tanaka, who could be asked to pitch on Wednesday at Toronto in what would be his third consecutive start on four days’ rest.
“I think it’s a little bit early to ask, just because it’s a quick turnaround,” Girardi said. “We’ll see how he feels [Sunday] when he plays some catch and maybe does some flat ground.”
While it puts the Yankees at a disadvantage to have Alex Rodriguez on the bench, Girardi reiterated on Saturday that Rodriguez is not an option to play the field. The Yankees had Rodriguez work out at first base earlier this month at Fenway Park and did not like what they saw.
“Let’s not forget that he’s 40 years old, and trying to run him out there for defense, it’s probably not going to be a ton of range,” Girardi said. “It’s something that he’s not comfortable doing. … [In Boston], it just didn’t look right, so we decided not to do it. He doesn’t look comfortable. As much as we thought that maybe it might work, it just didn’t work.”
MLB Network’s three to watch
Syndergaard is 7-1, 2.15 ERA (17 ER / 71 IP) in ten starts at Citi Field. Meanwhile, he’s just 1-5, 4.47 ERA (29 ER / 58.1 IP) on the road.
Yoenis Cespedes has 17 HR and 42 RBI in just 44 games with the Mets, although he is hitless in his last 13 AB with six strikeouts. Cespedes tied with Chris Davis for the most HR in baseball since the start of August with 17 HR in that span.
Brian McCann was also not in the starting lineup Friday with a lefty on the mound and a day game on Saturday. He’s batting just .111 (2-18 AB) with no XBH in his last 6 games.
On this date
2011: Mariano Rivera records a perfect ninth inning in the Yankees’ 6-4 win over the Twins, his 602nd career save, surpassing Trevor Hoffman’s previous Major League record of 601.
Quote to note
“[The goal is to] win the American League, get into the World Series and win the World Series. It doesn’t necessarily matter which way we go, as long as we finish that off. There might be some accomplishments that everybody in the game can be proud of at a certain level when and if they ever get tagged out, but we’re all playing at being the last team standing, so that’s our interest level.” – Cashman, on winning the AL East vs. the Wild Card
Amidst regular-season Subway Series stakes that have never been higher, the Mets quelled worries about a September slide by blasting three homers Friday in a 5-1 win over the Yankees, who lost more ground to the Blue Jays in the American League East.
Lucas Duda hit a game-tying homer in the second inning, Daniel Murphy crushed a go-ahead shot in the sixth and Juan Uribe provided some breathing room with a two-run homer in the seventh. It was enough for the Mets — who lowered their magic number to 8 — to retain an eight-game National League East lead over the Nationals with 15 to play, while the Yankees fell 4 1/2 games back of the Blue Jays.
— Tanaka’s evening was complete after 82 pitches, and while no decision has been made about bringing him back on Wednesday to face Toronto, Tanaka said he would be game for that assignment. This was Tanaka’s second time back-to-back on four days’ rest, and just the fourth time he has done it all season as the Yankees try to care for his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.
“I understand that they had to pull me out a little bit earlier today,” Tanaka said. “But, yeah, obviously if they wanted me to go in five days, the fifth day from now, I’ll be ready to go.”
— National League rules took away the designated hitter, but gave the Yankees a couple of late-inning bats to plug in. Jacoby Ellsbury hit for Tanaka in the seventh inning and Girardi saved Alex Rodriguez until the ninth, when he pinch-hit for Brendan Ryan and walked. Girardi said that he toyed with using A-Rod to hit for Ryan in the sixth inning, but did not because Greg Bird was at second base with first base open.
“Even though it’s second base, there is an open base and you could pitch around him,” Girardi said. “And then you’ve got to take Tanaka out and he’s throwing the ball extremely well, so we decided not to.”
— Chasen Shreve was a key contributor to the Yanks’ brilliant bullpen in the first half, but the left-hander has run into a September swoon. Serving up Juan Uribe’s two-run homer in the seventh, Shreve has surrendered six runs over his last five appearances, including three homers. Shreve has made 55 appearances but said he feels fine physically, and that fatigue is not a factor.
“It’s frustrating, because I feel like I had a good year thus far, and there’s no time to make it up now,” Shreve said. “I’ve just got to do damage control and try to finish strong.”
The Yankees fell 4 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East race, as Toronto defeated the Red Sox, 6-1. The Yankees lead the Astros by four for the first Wild Card spot.
The Yankees did not homer on Friday, ending a streak of 11 consecutive games with a homer dating to Sept. 6. That was their second-longest streak of the season (13 games from July 25-Aug. 7).
— Cut4 (@Cut4) September 19, 2015
“To be honest, I didn’t look at the scoreboard one time all night. I could care less what they do. If we want to try to catch them and win the division, we’ve got to play really, really well. Tonight we didn’t play good. I’m not worried about where they’re at. I’m just worried about us. We’ve got to try to even the series up tomorrow. There’s really not enough time left to lose series and win one out of every three or four games. We’ve got to go on a roll and pick things up and start playing better tomorrow.” – Brett Gardner
The first-ever September Subway Series is underway here at Citi Field, where Masahiro Tanaka and Steven Matz comprise the first pitching matchup for what will be a meaningful weekend series, featuring more than just bragging rights on the line.
Playoff picture: The Yankees (80-65) trail the Blue Jays (84-62) by 3 1/2 games in the American League East. Toronto is hosting the Red Sox tonight. The Yankees lead the Astros (77-70) by four games for the first Wild Card spot. Houston is hosting the Athletics.
Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees with a 99 percent chance of making the postseason and a 9.8 percent chance of winning the division.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 18, 2015
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 18, 2015
The Yankees’ lineup is more ideally constructed for American League play, especially since Alex Rodriguez accepted the idea of serving as a full-time designated hitter, presenting manager Joe Girardi with some late-inning threats off the bench for this Subway Series at Citi Field.
In addition to Rodriguez, who is expected to serve as a pinch-hitter while receiving some unwanted rest during these Interleague contests, the Yankees fielded a lineup on Friday without Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann against left-hander Steven Matz.
“It’s difficult, but we know that we also have a 17-game stretch here too that we have to worry about,” Girardi said.
Girardi said that the Yankees wanted to find a way to get lefty-crushing outfielder Chris Young in the lineup, offering Ellsbury two consecutive days off with Thursday’s dark day on the schedule. McCann is set to catch Saturday’s day game and again on Sunday.
Ellsbury said that Girardi sent him a text message early on Friday, letting him know about the decision.
“I mean, my whole career I’ve hit lefties well,” Ellsbury said, “but C.Y.’s swinging the bat well against lefties. I’m sure I’ll find my way at some point in this game. I’ve just got to help the team in any way possible, possibly later in the game.”
MLB Network’s three to watch
Tanaka is starting on four days’ rest for the second outing in a row and just the fourth time this year. Tanaka, however, has pitched well on regular rest, with a 2.45 ERA in those four starts — better than his 3.61 ERA in 18 starts on five-or-more days rest.
Matz throws his fastball at an average of 94.4 MPH, matching Chris Sale for the highest average fastball velocity in the Majors among left-handed starters.
Mark Teixeira’s fill-in, Greg Bird, has homered in back-to-back games, giving him five homers in 13 games this month (.644 SLG in September).
The Yankees lead the all-time regular season Subway Series 58-43, and of course, defeated the Mets in five games in the 2000 World Series.
On this date
1956: Mickey Mantle hits his 50th home run of the season in the 11th inning at Comiskey Park, helping to lift the Yankees a 3-2 win over the White Sox.
Quote to note
“All these games are big. The game tomorrow just as big as the game today, and then we’ve got Toronto after this. Those games are just as big. All these games are important. It’s all about winning, helping the team. I’m sure I’ll find my way in there at some point today.” – Ellsbury
When the schedule first was released last season, I will admit to circling this weekend’s Yankees-Mets tilt and thinking, ‘Really? April is much too early for the Subway Series.’ Shows what I know: it turns out, this is actually the perfect time for the Yankees and the Mets to meet head to head. Good job, schedule-makers!
If a few of these past Subway showdowns are any indication, we could be in for some wild fun this weekend:
The Yankees are hot, coming back off a long road trip having won six of their last seven games, including taking three of four from a very strong Tigers club in Detroit. The Mets are even hotter, having tied a franchise record with 11 consecutive victories — something they haven’t done 1990, the days of Straw & Doc.
You’re going to hear a lot this weekend about the Yankees trying to maintain their hold on the city, the Mets trying to rip it away. There might be some truth to that. You can make the case that, with their own expectations now sky-high, the Mets have more to lose this weekend than the Yankees do. Anthony DiComo has more on MLB.com.
Power arms, anyone? Michael Pineda and Jacob DeGrom will be on the mound tonight, CC Sabathia and Matt Harvey go at it on Saturday afternoon and the Sunday night matchup pits Nathan Eovaldi against Jonathan Niese. See you at the ballpark.